On March 30, 1981, a mentally ill man named John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Ronald Reagan and instead put a bullet in Jim Brady’s head. After years of scuffling between Congress and the NRA, The Brady Bill, which required a five-day waiting period and a background check to buy a handgun, was finally passed into legislation in 1994. It took 13 years after the attempt on Reagan’s life to finally get a law that said, “Fine, I guess we’ll make it slightly more difficult to buy guns.”
As you’ve probably read by now, a young woman named Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed last week on Pier 14 in San Francisco. The suspect in the homicide is a man named Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. This act of violence is sad, tragic and senseless. And yet, we’re used to hearing news like this. In fact, it feels like there isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t read about some terrible gun-related death. As I’m writing this, there have been 25,233 incidents of gun violence this year, 6,478 of which have resulted in death, according to GunViolenceArchive.org.
Every time I learn about one of these shootings I think, what if in 1981, after the assassination attempt, Reagan had thrown up his hands and said, “You know what? Fuck it, no more guns. All gun production in the U.S. stops today.”
No, seriously. Think about that. If all gun production had stopped 34 years ago, would there be between 270 million and 310 million guns (according to GunPolicy.org) on the street in the United States? Would the murderers at Columbine have been able to get ahold of those weapons? How about Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech or Aurora or Charleston or, well, pick a city, really.
Obviously, we can’t know for sure, but what we can know is that blaming the murder of Steinle on San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city is bullshit.
This is a city built by gold miners, queers, war refugees, sex workers, artists, poets and inventors. We are a city of immigrants, in a state built by immigrants, in a country founded by immigrants. We have always been a place where people seeking sanctuary and refuge have been welcome. San Francisco’s sanctuary law was passed so that undocumented immigrants could report domestic violence, gang activity or unsafe labor conditions without the fear of being deported. Allowing this tragedy to inflame the debate about immigration just skirts the real issues that our country refuses to deal with, like creating stricter guns laws and treating mental illness like what it is: a disease.
We live in a world that is obsessed with data. We use this data to solve problems. If your doctor runs a test on you that says you’re lactose intolerant, you stop consuming dairy. You don’t say, “Well, I know my body can’t process lactose, so it’s gotta be the cookie I ate with my glass of milk that made me sick.” Why, then, are we allowing the national media to tell us that, despite guns being the one single thing linking 25,233 shootings this year, undocumented immigrants are the cause of the problem?
Or at least the cause of the problem this week until the next shooting happens, and they blame it on something else.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.